Fiction Reviews


The Uplift War – The Second Trilogy

(1952/2008) David Brin, HarperCollins, £7.99, pbk, 294pp, ISBN 978-0-006-47922-2

 

Even Edgar Rice Burroughs in the primitive 'Mars' books used to spin his yarns by using more than one character's viewpoint, breaking off the narrative at some dangerous point for one character to move to another and so keep the pages turning.

These days, in the hands of such masters of modern space opera as Roger MacBride Allen, four viewpoints or more are not uncommon. But David Brin has pushed convention out of the airlock and his second 'Uplift' trilogy has innumerable viewpoint characters, at least 15 in one of the novels. Under these circumstances it is almost impossible to write a coherent review: all one can do is to outline the general plotting of the whole series.

Brin began the original 'Uplift' trilogy in 1980 with Sundiver, followed by Startide Rising in 1983 and Uplift War in 1987. The five galaxies of this superior space opera are populated by dozens of different sentient life-forms. Each galaxy has a 'patron line' who have taken upon themselves the obligation of uplifting lower species, called 'clients', to a higher level: commonly from non-sentience to sentience. The client species is then indentured to their patron for many thousands of years, after which it is assumed that they will have gained the wisdom to do some uplifting of their own.

This tidy arrangement is disrupted by the discovery of Earth, which has naturally (or so it seems) evolved sentient humans who all on their own have uplifted dolphins to the point of piloting spaceships. The humans are also working on other species such as chimpanzees. In the broader Galactic scheme of things this is all very anomalous and divides the extraterrestrial community into pro and anti-Earth camps. The first trilogy ends with a partial victory for the humans and their small band of alien sympathisers.

Now comes the second trilogy: Brightness Reef (1995), Infinity's Shore (1996) and Heaven's Reach (1998), which in the US has been collected into a single volume entitled The Uplift War – The Second Trilogy. Alas, Brin has here gone for this multiple-viewpoint telling of the story. So not only is a good memory required but also frequent reference to the character name index provided.

This really does not work. The expansion lessens the grip of the intricate plotting. There is brilliant writing about individual characters, but overall the effect adds up to a very difficult read. It is almost impossible to give a straightforward plot summary and so I will not try. Suffice it to say that I hope that Brin reverts to a simpler style in future. An interesting experiment though this may have been, its several hundred pages clearly represent much hard work by the author, but hard work for his readers too. Regretfully this reviewer gave up.

Vince (VinĘ) Clarke


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